September 30, 2004

banana rum raisin ice milk

I woke up a couple of days ago dreaming about how to make banana rum raisin ice cream. Like, not just how yummy it would be, but actual steps and ways to make it work. Not at all sure what triggered it, other than the ripening banana on the counter, but I haven't been able to get it out of my head, so I just made it. I didn't feel like buying cream so I went online for an icemilk recipe to check proportions, and adapted it for my purposes. Here's what I did:

2 cups 1% milk
1 tbsp cornstarch
3/8 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 ripe banana, smushed
cup of raisins
Gosling's spiced rum to cover raisins

Put raisins & rum in a bowl to soak. I microwaved mine 30 seconds to speed the process.

Put the egg yolks in a small bowl & beat lightly.

Whisk sugar & cornstarch together in a pan, then whisk in milk. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring frequently, and boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Slowly, slowly drizzle about a third of the hot milk into the eggs, whisking or stirring. Stir the tempered eggs into the rest of the milk.

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, about 10 minutes or until slightly thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pull off the heat. I almost always wait just a second too long, and my custard splits -- if this happens, do not panic. Just do what spleen does and whisk the living crap out of it off heat until it smooths out -- it'll be fine in the icecream. Pour the excess rum off the raisins into the custard & stir to blend. Cool then chill about an hour till it's cold. Stir in the smushed banana.

Run custard through ice cream maker, adding raisins toward the end when it's firmed up a little. This will thin it down, because of the extra rum going in, but it'll firm right back up. Put into plastic tub & freeze.

I guess you could consider this a very late, totally non-official participant in IMBB8, since it has booze in it. *grin*

It came out really well -- it could be creamier, of course, but for 1% butterfat, whaddaya want? It's smooth and scoopable, it tastes faintly of banana and stronger of rum, and it has juicy raisins all through it, and because it's not heavy cream I can eat way more of it, which is nice for a change. (foodnerd is attempting the nearly impossible: growing smaller without giving up cheese or bacon or pasta. It's all about kickboxing and DDR, really.) I'll make it again, for sure, and i might put 2 bananas in next time for a stronger flavor... and for company I might use whole milk. It really is quite luxurious and rich even in the 1% version, because of the custard and the rum. Mmmmmmmm.....

Posted by foodnerd at 08:15 PM | Comments (0)

September 29, 2004

cheeses is lord

Brian reminded me of this today: the two coolest cheese specialty shops in the world, based solely on name: the one in the Carolinas called What A Friend We Have In Cheeses and the other in Israel, called Cheeses of Nazareth. Given the rise in Jesus-based discourse of late, it seemed fitting to post them for posterity here. *giggle*

Posted by foodnerd at 12:07 AM | Comments (3)

September 26, 2004

san marzano sauce & tomatoes in mainstream supermarkets

Cento has a new line of sauces and cooked tomatoes packaged in jars rather than cans: San Marzano-based marinara and other pre-made sauces, plus some crushed tomatoes ready for use. I got pretty excited when I saw them on the shelf at Victory, because usually I have had to schlep to the North End or to Federal Hill in Providence, or at the very least to some Italian specialty market, to find San Marzanos. And San Marzanos *are* worth the hype; they really do taste different, richer, somehow stronger. Having them available from a mass-market producer in mainstream supermarkets would be just freaking awesome.

So I worried a bit that these new treasures wouldn't be that good, that they'd be just another marketing label slapped on some mundane tomatoes to move them at a higher price. But tonight a bunch of people came over for dinner, and it was so gorgeous out this weekend that I spent all my time out in the sunshine, not figuring out what to cook for a crowd... so I defrosted some spicy Italian sausages, boiled pasta, and turned to my cupboard for the new Cento treats. The marinara went over the sausages, and the crushed tomatoes went over some sauteed green beans, summer squash & garlic (with a parmesan rind in for some flavor*) for the vegetarians. Both tasted great -- and with such simple dishes, I can't really take much credit; it was all about the tomato flavor. No icky jarred-sauce sweetness or wacko off-flavors, just rich red meaty tomato goodness.

Let the word ring out across the land: San Marzanos in your local grocery at last!

(* I learned this trick, of putting an old hard parmesan rind into tomato sauce while it simmers, from a Cook's Illustrated recipe for cacciatore sauce. It works like a dream, and it saves me from trying to decide whether to keep trying to grate the nasty old rind or feel guilty about throwing it away. The sauce gets a subtle richness and depth that's hard to get otherwise. Yum.)

oh and ps: the new rigati pastas from Barilla are rocking my world. Those wee ridges look pretty and hold lots of sauce (I can never get enough sauce -- i know, i know, the Italians use way less sauce than Americans do, so sue me, I like sauce). My favorite is the bucatini rigati, but they've applied the texture to lots of strand-pastas and even some smaller shapes like tubes. I would link to Barilla's website for more info, but it is an unbelievably annoying collection of popups and other egregious interactivity. Gah!

Posted by foodnerd at 11:05 PM | Comments (1)

September 25, 2004


The Japanese conception of cuteness continues to astound and delight me. The iconic example for me is the smiling, dancing cartoon octopus apparently emblazoned on every takoyaki stand in Tokyo, beckoning you to come closer and eat delicious deepfried fritters containing chunks of his dead brethren. (Oishii!)

Anyway, the newest entry is this box of the most adorable little cookies: wee tiny chocolate-covered cookies in the shape of bamboo shoots. There was another style that was cookie straw-mushrooms with chocolate covered tops. I was unable to resist the cuteness. (Also note gratuitous amounts of high-quality packaging.) The cookies themselves are a little lackluster, dry dusty cookies with waxy chocolate, but who can complain when a humble savory vegetable is anointed with the mantle of cuteness in such a way?

Posted by foodnerd at 01:00 AM | Comments (1)

September 24, 2004

i can cook but i ain't no chef

Last night we had dinner with our delightful friends S & D, who were very patient with me as I undertook three separate courses for dinner. Everything was yummy (more on that in a minute), but I have learned that even when you are totally prepared, with sauces made ahead and a simple menu, and with a carefully-thought-out action plan, it still takes way too long to cook & plate up 3 whole courses while your guests are kicking around the dinner table waiting. Next time I will just do two: soup and main, rather than breaking up the main into meat+veg, then pasta. And family style at that -- plating is a drag when done at home. Oh well.

Anyway: we started with baguette, crostini crackers & cheeses -- a tomme (inspired by the photos on The Daily Bread, and they right - it's yummy!), a nevat (swoon), a spenwood (from Neal's Yard, a dreamy hardish cheese with a good balance of milkiness and tang) and a caciotta al tartufo, which is a pretty boring semisoft cheese made utterly lovely by little flecks of black truffle. And also homemade dilly carrot pickles.

Then gazpacho andaluz, which was a bit spicier on the tongue than I anticipated. I think there was a bit too much garlic, or the garlic was too strong; it was not as creamy and delicate as what I had in Spain. Lovely, though, and we all liked it just fine. And it makes a nice change from the chunky bright red style so common here in the US (for which the Moosewood Cookbook's recipe is by far the best).

Then seared scallops and steamed green beans with lemon-chive mayonnaise sauce. Trader Joe's frozen scallops are just terrific and very cheap, though I do recommend getting the largest size you can for nicer presentation. Lemon-chive mayonnaise is great stuff -- I'm definitely making it again, to go on fish, chicken, green vegetables, probably pasta too.

And then (sigh) pasta with wild mushrooms & sherry, from the current issue of Saveur (October 2004). I first made this with chanterelles & oyster mushrooms, at littlelee's house, and it was very tasty but seemed to lack oomph. I attributed this to the fact that $7 worth of chanterelles wasn't very many damn mushrooms, and so there wasn't enough to fill out the pasta. This new batch was made with a huge pile of shiitakes, button mushrooms and oyster mushrooms, plus more liquid in the sauce, plus more parmesan cheese, and it STILL didn't have enough flavor. Argh! I suspect I didn't salt the dish enough, and I also suspect that I still had too much pasta for the amount of shrooms. Maybe I overcooked the mushrooms; I don't know. I ate some cold, sprinkled with salt, for lunch, and this seemed a great improvement; the mushroom flavor came through much more when right out of the fridge. What I might do next time (because I love mushrooms & sherry so much, there *will* be a next time despite the frustrations) is cut back the pasta and also add another ingredient, like meat or seafood, or some nuts, or a stronger herb. And I'll salt up those shroomies right next time, too.

Last but never least, cantaloupe sorbet for dessert; three cheers for the ice cream maker!

Posted by foodnerd at 08:11 PM | Comments (0)

September 21, 2004

one more reason Alton Brown is cool

He had this to say after seeing Supersize Me:

What shocked me were the gasps I heard from the audience, most of whom seemed generally surprised that big business could be so…well…business like. [...]

We are fat and sick and dying because we have handed a basic, fundamental and intimate function of life over to corporations. We choose to value our nourishment so little that we entrust it to strangers. We hand our lives over to big companies and then drag them to court when the deal goes bad. This is insanity.

Feed yourselves.
Feed your loved ones.
And for God’s sake feed your children.

Don’t trust anyone else to do it…not anyone. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go out to dinner every now and then…that is after all one of the great joys of life…but it isn’t life itself and that’s what I’m talking about.

Is MacDonalds food bad for you? What do you think? Does that mean you shouldn’t eat it? No, it just means you shouldn’t live on it or anything else made by someone you wouldn’t hug.

Burgers don’t kill people.
People kill people.
Don’t be one of them.

Word, yo.

Posted by foodnerd at 07:55 PM | Comments (0)

September 20, 2004

the very essence of food porn

dear lord, these pictures are the sexiest, ballsiest food porn I've ever seen. Just tight, tight closeups of golden, shiny, crunchy fried potatoes in a sake-soy sauce. No backstory, no soft-focus, no romance -- just the money shot. With descriptive and instructive text on how to make your very own at home. I'm in love.

Posted by foodnerd at 02:45 PM | Comments (0)

September 19, 2004

holy crap, watermelon!

We picked our first watermelon today, a bit premature because it split open for some reason. We feared the worst, but it turned out to be sweet and delicious! Tallasiandude is so happy -- he's been trying to grow an edible watermelon for years and been thwarted by so many forces, not least of them our crappy Northeastern climate and our shady front yard. We sucked up the tiny sweet pink fruit for breakfast, and I'm thinking I might take the rinds and pickle them. Heh.

(for the scoop on the inside joke of the title, go here and watch the cartoon.)

Posted by foodnerd at 11:14 PM | Comments (0)

weekend adventures

Our friend N from Maryland visited this weekend, and arrived bearing marshmallow donuts and the Best Bacon Ever, bless her heart. Bacon from the Hollins Market in Baltimore is thick-cut, super-fatty, and wicked smoky -- when we first saw it in the market last fall, it looked so luscious I had to buy some and finagle it home on the plane. While we were at it, we got some smoked ham hocks too, for winter melon soup, which were so superior we won't use any other hocks. (Hollins Market is also the home of Chuckie's Fried Chicken, the Best Fried Chicken Ever, but that's another story.) And so now whenever we visit her or she visits us, fabulous pork products end up in our kitchen.

yeah, ok, so there's only 3 in the picture...
I was distracted by eating the first 6 or so
before I remembered to photograph -
can you blame me?
But wait, there's more: the 3 of us hooked up with littlelee & spleen to get busy with the awesome homemade dumplings at Taiwan Cafe in chinatown. Normally tallasiandude & I go there, order dumplings and something else (to fill the 20 minute wait for made-to-order dumplings), and can't even finish the one order, so this time we brought reinforcements so we could order multiple dumpling types. It paid off handsomely. The pork-shrimp pan-fried dumplings were the best they've ever been, perfectly crispy bottoms with thin, tender tops, and the xiao lung bao were enormous and floppy with their cargo of delicious pork soup. The other dim sum things were pretty good, but not extraordinary, but we did order a Fu-chou style fish ball soup that was a knockout. The fish balls were the usual firm white smooth fish paste, but inside is a dark savory nugget of pork: two great tastes that taste great together. The balls were floating in a clear broth with lots and lots of pepper (yum), green onion, and tiny bits of celery in the bottom.

And last night for dinner we acted on tallasiandude's craving and went to Kaya in Porter Square for the DIY Korean BBQ. They have terrific kalbi, super buttery and flavorful, and the bulgogi is damn good too. And the soft tofu seafood chigae is all that tallasiandude said it would be. It's very spicy, with a buttery broth, and a wonderful texture that comes from the abundance of pillowy, disintegrating soft tofu. And they have chamisul soju, which not only makes you pleasantly tiddly in short order, but tastes great with kalbi.

All that plus some yummy vietnamese dessert treats (agar-agar in thin coconut milk, red beans in thick coconut milk, neon-green sweet rice with coconut milk), a box full of takeaway egg tarts and lotus seed moon cakes, and a last minute goodbye dinner of beef pho and Christina's ice cream. (Speaking of which, Christina's concord-grape sorbet is excellent.) A high-quality eating weekend -- oh, and we did some sightseeing and stuff too. *grin*

Posted by foodnerd at 10:11 PM | Comments (0)

September 17, 2004

mexican summer saute

A happy confluence of leftovers and farmer's market goodies spawned this tasty dish (healthy too, shh).

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 poblano pepper, seeds & ribs removed, diced
2 small summer squash/zucchini, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
dried oregano (1/2 tsp?)
ground cumin (1 tsp?)
chili powder (1/2 tsp?)
stewed tomatoes or can of diced/crushed tomatoes
2 grilled chicken thighs, diced
kernels scraped from 2 ears leftover corn
salt & pepper

Heat the olive oil over med-high heat and add the onions. Saute till starting to soften, then add the poblano and squash and continue sauteing. The high heat will add a bit of nice brown crust to some of the vegetables, so keep stirring so they don't burn rather than brown. When they're nice and soft, sprinkle a bit of salt on the veg, add the spices, and stir to distribute. Then add the garlic and saute for 30-60 seconds. Add the tomatoes to keep things from burning (the oil will have been absorbed by now). Lower the heat to low and simmer 5 minutes, or as long as it takes to fully soften the vegetables. Add the corn and chicken just long enough to heat through and blend flavors (about 5 minutes), or longer to reduce any extra liquid you don't want. Adjust seasonings & add pepper to your taste.

Serve over white rice, sprinkled with cheese, cotija if available.

Posted by foodnerd at 11:02 PM | Comments (0)

italian-style escarole & beans

This is my version of the classic recipe, which has been vetted as authentic by our Italian-American food-bigot friend Victor, who views any not-Italian food with suspicion at best. It is definitely one of those recipes where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

1 onion, sliced
2 -3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
generous amount olive oil to saute (I use extra virgin, as I think it tastes nice)
head of escarole or other bitter green
can of chicken broth
can of white beans
salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste

Saute sliced onion in olive oil till softened, then add garlic slices and saute those till softened (use enough oil so they don't get dry or hard, or burn while you're sauteeing the greens). Add sliced up head of escarole, or other bitter green, and saute until wilted and fairly soft -- you want them pretty well sauteed before you add liquid, at least for escarole, because it tempers the bitterness. Add some pepper and red pepper flakes, if you like. Add a can of chicken broth. Braise a good long time till the greens are getting silky soft and delicious, then add a drained & rinsed can of white beans, and braise a little longer to flavor them up and blend everything (the broth thickens up just a hair from the bean starch). Cover at any point if you think the broth is disappearing too quickly. Salt to taste.

It's just lovely as it is, with some bread and cheese as accompaniment, but you can also add chicken sausage or other cooked meat to make a heartier stew-like dish. The key is to not wuss out on cooking the greens longer than you may think is strictly necessary, at both the saute and braise stages, because when they get all soft and olive green, that's when they taste most delicious. (I would even make so bold as to suggest that this might be the sort of thing that Marcella Hazan has in mind when she talks about insaporire as the wellspring of Italian food's astounding yumminess. Roughly translated it means "to make flavorful," and the general idea is to cook your aromatics (onion, celery, carrot, peppers, whatever) slowly in fat, building up layers of caramelization and flavors, before firing up the heat and adding the ingredient which is intended to be 'insaporato': given the flavor you just lovingly built up in the supporting ingredients. I think the beans are the target in a greens-n-beans recipe like this.)

Posted by foodnerd at 03:37 PM | Comments (5)

September 16, 2004

dear merciful heaven

for the love of god, someone stop me -- i can't keep my head out of these foodblogs! Argh. This one is a new entry in my Register of Frustration & Deprivation**: the crisps and snacks category of Memories of lamb & mint, chicken tikka, and pickled onion potato chips come flooding back.... yum. Sigh.

** thanks to Calvin Trillin for articulating and naming the horrible torture that comes from being a traveling food whore, wherein you discover and fall in love with delicious foodstuffs not available outside their native land.

Posted by foodnerd at 03:00 PM | Comments (0)

this is how to run a business

Penzey's Spices decided to expand their chain of spice stores. So they ran a postcard contest, and whichever city sent in the most cards got the store. Boston won -- woohoo! (and no thanks to my lazy procrastinating ass, sadly). This is good policy in and of itself, being community focused and democratic.

But just now I got a phone call from a nice lady in Wisconsin who wanted to know my thoughts on a store location they're considering. We talked about the neighborhood (Mass Ave near Arlington Town Hall), public transit access, parking, accessibility for those from outside the city (NH, or similar), and other general matters concerning whether or not it was a good spot to settle in. This is an amazing thing! They got my info from my order history (I buy a lot of stuff, I admit it) and called me up, person to person, to get the skinny from someone who would actually be going to the store, and who knows the area as a local, and they're undoubtedly going to tally up all the responses to make a composite picture of what they're getting into. Genius! Blindingly simple.

I feel strongly about supporting businesses that conduct themselves in a sustainable, customer and community friendly manner, and this just seals it. I can't wait for January, when I can scoot over to Arlington anytime I want and buy fresh, exotic, yummy spices from nice midwestern people who do things properly.

Posted by foodnerd at 12:13 PM | Comments (0)

kindred spirits in the blogosphere

I have long taken comfort in the presence of littlelee, spleen and hedge in my life, fellow foodsluts who provide companionship and emotional justification for my chow-related excesses. And though I knew there were others of our kind out there, now I can find them and read them at all hours of the day and night. Huzzah, MORE FOOD INFORMATION!

Of course, this should not be so shocking and exciting for me, since after all I have my own food blog here to provide entertainment and happy food thoughts to the public. But it never really occurred to me that anyone would read it; it was mostly for my own amusement. Then tallasiandude set up usage tracking, and it became clear that people are actually linking to, bookmarking and reading this here blog. Ay caramba! This of course led to a delightful two hours wandering around other people's food blogs, our favorites of which (so far) are listed under links, below left.

Some of these have awesome recipes on them. Others are even nerdier than mine, which is utterly wonderful. And others are just plain people I want to eat dinner with. For instance, consider this musing on weight-loss. Not only is this exactly my own attitude on the subject, but it includes a diatribe against low-fat cheese, mentions of suet pastry, a completely justifiable gyoza bender, and a delicious recipe for cucumber salad. The only thing I'd add is a link to Margaret Cho's website, wherein she discusses her own weight-loss epiphany.

I'm not sure this approach would work as well for us as it did for Margaret, because we didn't have such effective hangups around chocolate cake and pizza in the first place -- sometimes I think my whole life is a fuck-it diet -- but there are fundamental truths there. The idea of leaving delicious food on the plate uneaten because YOU CAN GET MORE LATER is a mindblower. (I've only recently gotten to the point where I'll leave it on the plate but then bulldoze the server into wrapping it to go for later.) There is not one thing wrong with eating suet pastry and triple creme cheese and white bread and toro nigiri and Kraft Mac & Cheese and b'giant steaks... it's only how much of them you eat. And since I am no longer poor, I need to accept and internalize the fact that I don't have to snarf up the entire contents of the free buffet, but can just run out and buy more nevat or organic chocolate or wild arugula or bulgarian feta anytime I like.

America. What a country. *grin*

(thanks to everyone who actually reads this blog, and to maki for having such a cool blog: I am inspired now to stop being such a lazyass and actually write out specific recipes for things.)

Posted by foodnerd at 10:40 AM | Comments (1)

September 14, 2004

cantaloupe sorbet

For some reason, our garden cantaloupes have been starting to mold before they are fully ripe, so in order to deal with the mangled chunks of yummy but none-too-sweet ripe melon, I made them into sorbet. Taking a tip from the strawberry sorbet I had at Jiraffe in LA, I put some sauternes in with the melon and sugar. Holy cow! Just like the strawberry, the melon is pushed right over the edge into glory by that wine's sweetness and floral overtones. The alcohol also helps keep the texture soft and velvety, rather than icy. I ate some every day for a week, and there's still some left, which I think I might go eat right now. Oh, how I love the sweet fruity desserts!

(though still, as good as this melon sorbet is, the All-Time Best Fruity Dessert Ever prize still belongs to the lime sherbet made this spring. Hot damn.)

Posted by foodnerd at 11:41 PM | Comments (0)

September 10, 2004

middle-brow food bucket

Original (low-brow) food bucket: Kraft Mac & Cheese, Hormel canned chili, hot dogs. Ideally cooked over a campfire. Intensely satisfying hike food.

High-brow food bucket: Homemade mac with real melty cheeses, homemade chili with ground meat and beans and tomatoes and spiciness, hot dogs. Usually made at home. Tastes great, of course, because of all yummy ingredients especially including cheese. But somehow wrong, contrary to the spirit of food bucket.

Enter last night's last-minute dinner: Annie's white mac & cheese, Stagg fancy-pants meaty canned chili from Costco, a handful of aged cheddar, chopped fresh tomato. No dogs, b/c the chili has lots of meat. It has the proper spirit, of cans and powdered cheese mix, but it tastes great because of the tiny bit of real cheese and higher-quality foundations. Mmmm...

Posted by foodnerd at 11:42 AM | Comments (1)

September 07, 2004

mojito milkshake

Visit #2 to the Friendly Toast in Portsmouth NH found the frosty-drink machine in good working order, happily, and we had a selection. The blueberry-raspberry smoothie was lovely, pure fruit, not too sweet. The vanilla milkshake was perfection, as expected. But the mojito milkshake is where the real action is. Milk, sugar, lime juice and finely minced mint -- it's like minted, melty lime sherbet. Tangy and delicious. Worth not being able to finish the monster sandwich that accompanied it.

Posted by foodnerd at 11:54 PM | Comments (0)